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The Three Acronyms That Best Describe This Era: TINA, TANSTAAFL and FUGAZI

March 2, 2015

TINA and the complacent belief in free lunches strip the resiliency from a system and leave it vulnerable to collapse.

It's tough to select three acronyms that best capture the current perfection of central planning, central banking and centralized propaganda. FUBAR (f**ked up beyond all repair) is tough to beat, and for those with a taste for absurdist humor, ROTFLMAO is equally appropriate--especially when "official" economic data is issued by various Ministries of Truth.

After long deliberation, I'm going with TINA, TANSTAAFL and FUGAZI as best defining our era: there is no alternative, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and f**ked up, got ambushed, zipped in (to a body bag).

Let's start with TINA, there is no alternative, because this drives the other two. TINA is the favored phrase of those benefiting from the current arrangement; if they can sell everyone on the idea that this is the only possible arrangement, the tax-donkeys and debt-serfs (i.e. the bottom 90%) will passively accept their lot in life and those at the top of the heap will have a free pass to most of the wealth and power.

But TINA also expresses a systemic rigidity that suppresses the variability and volatility needed to maintain real stability and not just a phony extend-and-pretend pseudo-stability.

As Nassim Taleb has shown in his work on fragility and anti-fragility (as described in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder), there is no alternative is another way of guaranteeing rigidity, brittleness, fragility and vulnerability to collapse.

Here's one example of TINA--rising credit is the backbone of the status quo, and there is no alternative to ever-expanding levels of debt and ever-diminishing returns on all the newly acquired debt.

Which brings us to there ain't no such thing as a free lunch: if there is no alternative, i.e. there is no experimentation, dissent or innovation allowed, the system becomes increasingly fragile and implodes at the first crisis.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch expresses three core dynamics in economics: everything has an opportunity cost; externalities are eventually paid by someone, somewhere, and every "investment" that claims to generate something for nothing is a Ponzi scheme or other fraud.

The opportunity cost of any expense is what else could have been bought with the money. If a society builds a bridge to nowhere at great expense, the society gave up all the more productive uses of those funds. If a university pays an administrator $350,000 a year to be Executive Director of Institutional Advancement (or some equivalent paper-shuffling nonsense), the students forfeit $350,000 of additional classroom educators or a reduction in tuition.

When the money is being borrowed or extracted from student debt-serfs, it seems as if the money is free; the opportunity cost is not visible. But over time, malinvestment, waste and corruption bleed the system of capital and vitality. A society of bridges to nowhere and overpaid, counterproductive paper-shufflers is a society poised on the precipice of collapse.

Externalities are costs that are dumped by participants onto the system or others in the system. The classic example is industrial waste dumped into the air and rivers.

Externalities such as pollution are interesting examples of the Tragedy of the Commons (U.S. Healthcare and the Tragedy of the Commons) that I discussed last month.

When we dump waste in the air and rivers, at first it seems as if the dumping is "free"--we avoid the cost of dealing with the pollutants, and the river and air absorb the poisons with little impact on the system as a whole.

But then as everyone else also dumps waste in the air and water--and they must do so, if they want to compete with those who are "lowering production costs" by dumping their contaminants--the entire system is soon clogged with pollutants that negatively everyone who breathes, eats food grown on poisoned soils, etc.

Since the waste has reached truly epic levels, the cost of remediating the damage is now staggering: the sources of pollution must clean up their production discharges (a horrendously costly project on a national scale) and the damage already done must be cleaned up--another project that will cost a significant percentage of the nation's GDP.

If the nation pretends to clean up the waste with toothless regulations and PR pronouncements, all in the name of maintaining production and consumption, the waste will only get more costly to clean up later.

In the meantime, everyone breathing the air rediscovers TANSTAAFL: there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. The illnesses caused by rampant environmental damaged deduct millions of years of productive life from the citizenry and rapidly increase healthcare costs. Both divert capital from production and bleed disposable income from consumption.

Putting off the $10 trillion in environmental cleanup creates $10 trillion in reduced lifespans, lower productivity and soaring healthcare costs--and eventually the $10 trillion clean-up will have to paid for anyway, lest the nation become unlivable.

Every pension plan based on 7+% annual returns is effectively a promise to take $10,000 in contributions and magically turn it into $250,000 in benefits. Every pay-as-you-go healthcare system for the elderly (Medicare etc.) makes the same promise: everyone who paid in $10,000 in total lifetime Medicare taxes can extract $300,000 to $500,000 in benefits.

The same goes for stock markets that triple in six years and housing prices that double in a few short years: the gains, pensions and healthcare are mostly free lunches.

And that brings us to FUGAZI (f**ked up, got ambushed, zipped in). FUGAZI has two current meanings, both apocryphal: something that is fake and the combat-context phrase f**ked up, got ambushed, zipped in (to a body bag, i.e. killed in action). While this certainly sounds Vietnam-era, I worked with many Vietnam vets in the 70s and 80s, and I never heard any use the word fugazi, so it may be a backronym, i.e. a word that did not start as an acronym but acquired an acronym later.

The official narrative of "growth" based on official statistics is fugazi, i.e. fake. The stats are fake, the rah-rah propaganda is fake, the claim that subprime auto loans will all be paid in full is fake, the promise that a college education will deliver a secure, good-paying job is fake--the list is essentially endless.

That leaves investors and anyone else who believes the official narrative (or believes the Powers That Be can enforce the narrative even if it is fake) in danger of getting ambushed by an imploding, bidless market. The big screwup is believing you're safe because nothing untoward has ever happened on this path. (In other words, "buy the dip" has worked every time and is thus totally safe.)

The point here is that TINA and the complacent belief in free lunches strip the resiliency from a system and leave it vulnerable to collapse. So instead of hyper-vigilance and a keen intuition for something not feeling right, the believers in free lunches march complacently down the trail, are ambushed by "the impossible" and zipped up in body bags.

Put another way: it's fun to play at a rigged roulette wheel, but once you feel confident that you'll never lose or will recover your losses quickly, it's wise to cash in your chips and let others play the last few spins of the wheel.








Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy (Kindle, $9.95)(print, $17.76)
go to Kindle edition
Are you like me?
Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test-drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $17.76

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube)


HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site should be construed as investment advice or guidance. It is not intended as investment advice or guidance, nor is it offered as such.... (read more)

WHY EMAIL TO THIS SITE IS READ BUT MAY NOT BE ACKNOWLEDGED: Regrettably, I am so sorely pressed for time and energy that I am unable to respond to the vast majority of emails. Please know I read all emails, but I can only devote a very limited number of hours to this blog and all correspondence....



This Month's entries:

The Three Acronyms That Best Describe This Era: TINA, TANSTAAFL and FUGAZI March 2, 2015


My 31-Year Old Apple Mac Started Up Fine After 15 Years in a Box February 28, 2015

China and the Dragon Tail of Marx February 27, 2015

U.S. Healthcare and the Tragedy of the Commons February 26, 2015

Why It's So Difficult to Repair Stuff: It's Made That Way February 25, 2015

Forget The $1 Trillion Platinum Coin--Here's the $10 Trillion Stone Coin February 24, 2015

Grexit Drama Greenlighted for a 5th Season--New Characters, New Plot Twists February 23, 2015

Is the Web Destroying the Cultural Economy? February 21, 2015

How Many More “Saves” Are Left in the Central Bank Bazookas? February 20, 2015

Greece and the Endgame of the Neo-Colonial Model of Exploitation February 19, 2015

The Catastrophic Costs of Extend-and-Pretend Are About to Crush Europe February 18, 2015

Failed Discipline, Failed Reforms and Grexit: Why the Euro Failed February 17, 2015

Greece and Euroland's Crumbling McMansion of Debt February 16, 2015

The Cure for Discouragement: a Good Meal February 14, 2015

Will China's Currency Peg Be the Next to Fall? February 13, 2015

Empire of Lies February 12, 2015

Some Thoughts on Greece's Exit from the Euro (Grexit) February 11, 2015

The Top 1/10th of 1% Loves a Guaranteed Minimum Income: With One Caveat February 10, 2015

What Looks Crazy at First Might Be the Ideal Solution: Meet Greece's New Currency, the U.S. Dollar February 9, 2015

How To Make a Hawaii Boy Happy February 7, 2015

Greece: Are You Finally Ready to Do the Right Thing and Leave the Euro? February 6, 2015

The Lesson of Greece: Only Collapse Makes Real Change Possible February 5, 2015

The USD Bull in the Global China Shop February 4, 2015

Rates Don't Matter--Liquidity Matters February 3, 2015

Greece Just Blew Up the Empire's Death Star of Debt February 2, 2015


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Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:


"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
(Douglas MacArthur)

"We are what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle)

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

"He who will not risk cannot win." (John Paul Jones)

"When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army." (Honore de Balzac)

"Progress is not possible without deviation." (Frank Zappa, via Richard Metzger)

"Victory favors those who take pains." (amat victoria curam)

"The man who has a garden and a library has everything." (Cicero, via Lee Bentley)

"A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts." CHS

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

"The way of the Tao is reversal" Or "Reversal is the movement of Tao." (Lao Tzu)

"Chance favours the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison (via Susan J.)

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, via Wayne H.)

"Passive absorption of marketing-dominated media is the primary activity on the plantation of the mind, and that of course is the goal of the colonial overlords: distraction, passivity, confusion, divide and conquer, and the old stand-by, financial desperation." (CHS)

"While we can always buy back into a trending market, we cannot go back in time and recover a profit lost to greed or complacency." (CHS)

"Whatever remains unconscious emerges later as fate." (Carl Jung)

"Any sufficiently advanced cartel's actions are indistinguishable from magic." (CHS)

"We have no leadership, just cronies and puppets." (CHS)

"The secret sauce in an investment isn't the upside, it's the viability between people who choose to share your dream in business or in life." (Eric P.)

"The ultimate goals of making money are balance and independence from money." (An Chu)

"Central planning perfects the power of threats to bypass the system's defenses." (CHS)

"Independence requires independence of thought, habit and action." (CHS)

"Certainty has another advantage: it's more persuasive than hedged hesitancy." (CHS)

"That which is cheap and abundant will be squandered until it is no longer cheap or abundant." (CHS) (3/5/2014)

"The prime directive of any bureaucracy is to eliminate all accountability." (CHS)

"In a world besotted with the artifice of consumerism, what matters is not what can be commodified and bought but what can't be commodified and bought." (CHS)

"The Mobile Creative credo: trust the network, not the corporation or the state." (CHS)

"The Smith Market Uncertainty Principle: The more precisely we can determine the likelihood of a trend change, the less precisely we can determine the timing of the trend change--and vice versa." (June 20, 2014)

"Smith's Law of Conservation of Risk: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences." (July 8, 2014)(thanks to Lew G. for retitling the idea.)

Smith's Neofeudalism Principle #1:: If the citizenry cannot replace a dysfunctional government and/or limit the power of the financial Aristocracy at the ballot box, the nation is a democracy in name only."

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." (Robert David Steele)

"Liberation isn't profitable, and more's the pity." (CHS, 11/29/14)

"There is no difference between the path of repeated failure and the path that eventual leads to uncommon success." (CHS, 12/5/2014)

"Focus not on retiring comfortably, but on working comfortably." (CHS, 1/30/15)

"When you're thirsty, it's too late to dig a well." (old Chinese proverb)

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    Deep Into ArtLife West

    Dan Tyler

    Jill Kanter (copyediting)

    Eaton Rapids Joe
    Joe's Index of Small Business Reports


    Permaculture
    (via Jason C.)

    Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture

    Perennial Vegetables: A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles

    Moringa: Nature's Medicine Cabinet

    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)

    Permaculture: A Designers' Manual

    Permaculture Activist (website)

    Zaytuna Farm Tour (Geoff Lawton) (video)

    Urban Permaculture with Michele Margolis (video)

    Greening the Desert (Geoff Lawton) (video)


    Farming/Gardening / Self-Sufficiency

    Everlasting Seeds (heirloom, USDA organic)


    Architecture

    Architext
    Red-Tile Style (website)
    Red-Tile Style (book)
    Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes


    Health

    Ayurvedic nutrition
    New book:
    Ayurvedic Nutrition

    European Institute of Vedic Studies

    New Medicine Foundation

    healthy skeptic.org


    Pro-Bicycle/Car-Free

    Waterside Workshops

    Halcyon Bike Shop

    electricbikeworks.com

    streetsblog.org

    carfreeusa

    bikeportland.org

    bikesnobnyc

    carfreewithkids

    howwedrive


    Smart Growth/Alt. Transpo

    t4america.org

    discoveringurbanism

    theoverheadwire

    Regional Communities


    The Great Transformation

    Club Orlov

    Mat Stein: When Technology Fails

    Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG)

    The Survivalist Blog

    Little Homestead in the City


    Dumpster-Diving/Freegan

    Urban Dumpster Diver


    Hawaii

    ilind.net (Ka'a'awa)

    Richard Ha/Hamakua Springs

    Hilo Living


    Leaving America

    Yield Qwest: Overseas Business Emigration


    Buy gold online:

    Buy gold online at low prices: BullionVault

    Need to send a gift?
    Amazon.com gift certificates

    give a Kindle ebook

    Note: at no cost to you, I earn a small commission on purchases made via BullionVault and Amazon.com.


    Original Music

    2 new songs:


    Obsession (Song 29)
    (rock/grunge; CHS & CC, lead guitars)

    The Bridge
    (jazz; CC, bass & guitars)



    My "definition" of success:

    1. Did I make myself useful today?
    2. Did I take care of myself today and avoid burdening anyone with my cares and troubles?
    3. Were I to meet the living Jesus or Buddha at day's end, would I feel ashamed of my conduct during the day, or could I meet his gaze with the inner knowledge that I emulated his teachings to the very best of my ability?


    live free
    live well
    live with integrity
    live with kindness
    be average but with self-discipline


    7 things to aspire to:

    austerity
    restraint
    humility
    responsibility
    patience
    sacrifice
    thrift

     

       
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